Dietitian vs. Nutritionist


When trying to choose between a nutritionist and a dietitian, know that there are important differences in their qualifications, scope of expertise and legal status as practitioners.

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Definition A dietitian is a qualified health professional who helps promote good health through proper nutritional habits. A Nutritionist is someone who works with food and nutritional science, aiming to prevent diseases related to nutrient deficiencies. Nutritionists are ofter certified by professional organizations.
Legal status In many states, legally considered an expert on nutrition. Registered with the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR). Licensed to practice diet and nutrition consultation. In many states, legally accepted as an expert. A Nutritionist may or may not be a qualified health professional.
Qualifications A registered dietitian in the US needs to have a bachelor's degree, complete an internship, take an exam and maintain ongoing education credits. Many Nutritionists have a Bachelor's, Master's, or a Doctorate in nutrition. Some may not have any formal education in this field.

Contents: Dietitian vs Nutritionist

Registered Dietitian Sandra B. O'Connor (L) prepares trays of salad for lunch for kids at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA.
Registered Dietitian Sandra B. O'Connor (L) prepares trays of salad for lunch for kids at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA.

edit Definitions

A Nutritionist is a health specialist who devotes professional activity to food and nutritional science, preventive nutrition, diseases related to nutrient deficiencies, and the use of nutrient manipulation to enhance the clinical response to human diseases. A Dietitian is an expert in food and nutrition. Dietitians help promote good health through proper eating. They also supervise the preparation and service of food, develop modified diets, participate in research, and educate individuals and groups on good nutritional habits .

edit Qualifications

In the US, a Registered Dietitian (RD) needs the following qualifications:

Nutritionists are not required to have any such qualifications. This means nutritionists have varying levels of education -- from someone with little or no education to an individual who has obtained a bachelor's, master's, or even a doctoral degree.

edit Legal status

A Dietitian holding a Bachelor's degree in dietetics or related areas is legally regarded as the expert in nutrition and dietary related matters. On the other hand, a Nutritionist may or may not have any educational qualification and is not a legally protected term in most parts of the world.

edit Video Explaining the Differences

In the following video, Ashley Sweeney, a registered dietitian, explains the differences between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist.

edit Types

The types of Nutritionists are: Nutrition Scientists and Public Health Nutritionists. The former are those individuals who use the scientific method to study nutrients, both as individual compounds and as they interact in food and nutrition while the latter are specialists who aid in diagnosing the nutritional problems of communities and in finding solutions to those problems.

The different types of Dietitians include:

Clinical Dietitians: They work in hospitals and other health care facilities to provide medical nutrition therapy to patients according to the disease processes, provide individual dietary consultations to patients and their family members and also conduct group education for other health workers, patients and the public.

Community dietitians: They work with wellness programs and international health organizations.

Foodservice dietitians: They are responsible for large-scale food planning and service.

Gerontological dietitians: They are specialists in nutrition and aging. They are Board certified in Gerontological Nutrition with the American Dietetic Association.

Research dietitians: They are mostly involved with dietary related research in the clinical aspect of nutrition in disease states, public aspect on primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary health prevention and foodservice aspect in issues involving the food prepared for patients.

Administrative Dietitians: They are managers or head of their departments and have a number of dietitians in the department.

Business dietitians: These serve as resource people for the media. Dietitians' expertise in nutrition is often taped for TV, radio, and newspapers -- either as an expert guest opinion, regular columnist or guest, or for resource, restaurant, or recipe development and critique.

Consultant dietitians: These work under private practice.

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Comments: Dietitian vs Nutritionist

Anonymous comments (5)

June 14, 2013, 12:17am

The comment made above that basically belittles dietitians and the science behind dietetics is biased and mostly opinion. While some dietitians may behave in the manner described above, the majority aims to truly make a difference by helping NOT telling people to live healthier lives. Personally, I am going to school to become a RD because I truly want to help people make more educated chooses when it comes to food consumption. I believe that both dietitians and nurtionalists have a much needed place in today's health-conscious society.

— 68.✗.✗.19

July 6, 2013, 9:52pm

Although a professional is not a registered dietitian, it is important not to discount them without looking into their background. For example, a exercise physiologist may also be a nutritionist and hold a certifications at the Masters level in sports nutrition (like myself).Although I would not work in a clinical setting and have the title of RD, I have taken over 5 courses of graduate and undergraduate courses in human metabolism, applied nutrition, sports nutrition, endocrinology ect. It depends on what you are looking for. If you have a physique goal, I would recommend a someone with a strong background in both. Although diet plays the larger role in weight management (looking good in cloths),fitness plays a much larger role in physique (looking good naked). Both must be respected and work together, therefore, one should seek a professional that can work in both fields.
Again, the same argument can be made for general health and wellness. For someone struggling with diabetes, high cholesterol, and or high blood pressure, if you can find someone to help you both in the kitchen but is also a certified to work with high risk patients in an exercise setting. You can choose to go to both an RD and Clinical Exercise Physiologist, but if you can find a hybrid professional who understands both sides extremely well, it saves money, time, you will get a more cohesive program.

— 173.✗.✗.117

April 16, 2014, 6:03am


— 41.✗.✗.31

November 1, 2011, 2:05am

You could go see either a nutritionist or a dietician. The nutritionist may be more "wholistic" in their approach. RD's are definitely book-learned and biased because they take money from corporations that have caused part of the problems we have today: the American Dairy Association, Pepsico, CocoCola, Mars, Hershey, etc. Most don't know squat about supplementation-and generally refuse to talk about them. They take every opportunity to badmouth nutritional designations except their own (NC, CNC, CCN, etc). Keep in mind they are generally responsible for the poor quality of food in hospitals and school systems. It always amazes me that they continue to try to "corner the market" on nutritional information by lobying State legislators, even though they have done such a poor job historically.

The bottom line is for you to find someone who you like and that movitates you to take control of your health. The best ones act as coaches rather than school teachers, and give you lots of direction, but insists that YOU assist to come up with the necessary changes to improve your lifestyle.

— 108.✗.✗.225

December 7, 2011, 3:42am

I can help. I am a licensed Nutrition Coach available by email, telephone, or in person (of course that would depend on your location). The issues of diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure and excess weight can all be addressed simultaneously. Let me know if I may assist.

— 174.✗.✗.136


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